By Ronald Penh
Grace Diner is a non-profit organization that serves free weekly meals at the Grace Lutheran Church in the Parish Hall every Monday from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. to provide those in need a guaranteed area and time to dine, relax, and socialize.
The diner has a “restaurant-style” setting with tables that people sit down at and are then served a freshly cooked meal. Live music is played and people are joined together at tables which opens up the Grace Diner as a warm and social event.
“It’s really well done because it’s clean tablecloths, it’s open for two hours, and you have a full-course meal cooked,” Yolanda D., a diner at the event, said.
Lisa Skelley, manager of the Grace Diner, discussed the typical experiences of marginalization for homeless people and how they can be made to feel excluded or are rushed out of areas. The Grace Diner came about in an effort to counter this issue and to create a space for homeless people and people in need to be treated to a free meal and dine-in experience in what Skelley refers to as a “community diner.”
“It’s interesting because when people come to the diner, they automatically think they should get a tray and go up to our window to get food,” Skelley said. “They’re always a little shocked when I say, ‘Oh no, go ahead and get a seat, and we’ll have our wait staff come over to serve you.’”
The service aims to provide meals for any individual in need, but its significance comes from the space being designated to create a welcoming and communal environment for those that attend.
“People have told us in the past that this is the only place they go all week where no one forced them to leave,” Jim Lyall, president of the Grace Diner, said.
Recipients are prepared a three-course meal: a salad, entree, and dessert. The Grace Diner prepares 110 meals each week and intakes about 90 regulars with a couple of new faces each time. The diner does not turn down anyone, making it accessible for any individual that is in need of a meal. They also have a takeout option that some regulars have signed up for.
And when the amount of people that attend exceeds the meal count, the Grace Diner continues to serve whoever is in attendance.
“One time, I had to go to Jack in the Box and order 220 tacos,” Skelley shared.
Beyond the charitable effort that comes from providing a free weekly meal, the Grace Diner has an overarching scheme that would help the diner reach full effectiveness, which is to encourage other organizations to participate and provide weekly meals for the other days that the Grace Diner does not.
Culver Palms United Methodist Church has already taken notice and has studied how the Grace Diner executes their weekly dinner. They now provide a free meal every last Wednesday of the month from 4:30 to 6 p.m. at their church which is located on 4464 Sepulveda Blvd, Culver City.
“Our goal when we started the diner is that churches would take over each night,” Skelly said. “That has not happened, but this is the beginning.”
After Monday, Nov. 18, the Grace Diner can share that they have provided meals for a total of 541 consecutive weeks.
The organization has an abundant source of volunteers, but the organization depends primarily on donations. You can donate through their website www.gracediner.org under the section “Donate Now.”
Grace Lutheran Church is located on 4427 Overland Ave, Culver City.